When Tom Lehman finally won the U.S. Open on Sunday, he wept. He
shot 67 to win by two, smooched the trophy and put a full nelson
on his wife.
This is an article from the June 29, 1998 issue
Unfortunately, it was 7:30 on Sunday morning, his wife, Melissa,
was dozing next to him, and the real U.S. Open was still hours
"I was just lying there, visualizing the whole day," Lehman said
on Sunday evening. "I got off to a great start. Birdied number
1. Bunch of pars. Stick it on 14. Stuff it on 18. Then they
handed me the trophy. It was so emotional. I was thinking how
good it felt, how much I'd wanted it. And tears came down my
He shoulda stood in bed.
Because when it was time to play, golf's Susan Lucci made no
birdies, shot 75 and finished tied for nowhere. It was an
unprecedented fourth straight year he'd lost coming out of the
final pairing at a U.S. Open, equaling a record for heartache
set by the Buffalo Bills and Harold Stassen. Face it. It's
looking as if Lehman will never win one of these stupid things,
which proves that God has a sick sense of humor.
What stinks is that in this, the year of John Elway, it all set
up so sweet. Down four strokes, Lehman was paired with the
leader, Payne Stewart. The crowds were three to one for him. How
could you not be? Here was Stewart, with that classic swing,
those Ford-modeling-agency looks, those dandified clothes. And
there was Lehman, with that Herman Munster swing, that John
Deere face, those rumpled Dockers.
Lehman had to win this time. He's the guy with the heart three
sizes too big, the guy who always runs the paper drive, secretly
cuts the elderly couple's lawn and buys too many boxes of Girl
Scout cookies. In a world where celebrating Father's Day usually
requires a judge and two court orders, Lehman is that rare guy:
the athlete who actually wants to be a dad. How many tour pros
wear their daughter's Day-Glo green friendship bracelet when
they play? How many bring their two-year-old sons with them to
tournaments, without benefit of wife, babysitter or personal
assistant? When Melissa suffered a miscarriage last year, Tom
was still despondent long after she had gotten over it.
A guy like that you want to win the Open, the Pulitzer and, if
possible, PowerBall. So with all that going for him, Lehman went
out on Sunday and played flatter than last Thursday's beer. He
got passed by Lee Janzen, who took the trophy, held his wife and
cried. You know what it does to a guy, always playing Betty to
everybody else's Veronica? "I gotta be brutally honest here,"
Lehman said afterward. "Doubt is starting to creep into my head."
You know what Lehman's problem is? He's not a killer. On Friday
he yelled at a USGA official for a ridiculous pin placement on
18. He called the man the next day to apologize. On Saturday he
was practicing eight-foot putts. Every time his ball would
approach the hole, his eight-year-old daughter, Rachael, would
swat it away with the flagstick. Most pros would've called
security. Or a boarding school. Lehman just smiled. Two years
ago, at the 1996 U.S. Open, remember who gave Steve Jones the
strength to settle his nerves and beat Lehman? Lehman!
Tom Lehman: Doormat to Greatness.
"I don't care," he says. "I think life would suck if you had to
be an a------ to be the Open champion. I mean, if I die and all
they write on my tombstone is TOM LEHMAN: A GREAT PROFESSIONAL
GOLFER, then I'll have missed the whole point of life."
Lehman's not the tragic figure here. I can think of 10 guys with
more wins in majors who are more tragic than Lehman. You know
what the leading activity on Tour is lately? Divorce. Guys are
leaving their wives faster than they do their equipment
companies. Nick Faldo left his wife and three kids for an
American college student and a home in Orlando next to his
coach. The tragic figures are the guys who don't even know
they're missing what Lehman's already won: respect, family,
After the tournament ended on Sunday, a friend asked Lehman how
he was going to get over this. Kick out a window? Scream? Triple
the therapy? "Man," said Lehman, glumly. "I have no idea."
That's when Melissa said, "How about: go home and have great sex
all night long?"
Lehman thought about it a second.
"That would work, too," he said.